Teaching Notes

Note: This chapter was retired in October 2018. The visualization tool (My World GIS) is no longer supported.

Example Output

10 map for example Example Output
Map illustrating tree species data displayed on a My World GIS map.
Screen capture of a display of environmental data with Forest Inventory Growth (FIG) tree species data for the Auburn Land Lab, ME.

Grade Level

This chapter is most appropriate for grades 9-12.

Learning Goals

After completing this chapter, students will be able to: 

  • import Forest Inventory data into Excel and My World GIS;
  • add and manipulate data layers in My World GIS;
  • subset large datasets, buffer others, examine spatial relationships, and gather statistics to investigate biodiversity;
  • apply authentic, place-based research and learning;
  • connect concepts from outdoor observations and data collection to technology and data analysis;
  • demonstrate skills with analysis tools (Microsoft Excel and My World GIS);
  • demonstrate an introductory understanding of biodiversity (abiotic and biotic factors); and
  • communicate knowledge and awareness of local forest systems within the state of Maine.


Microsoft® Excel is a common spreadsheet program available on many desktop and laptop computers. It is a useful tool for conducting basic statistical analyses. (Mac users may take advantage of NeoOffice, a free download that is fully compatible with Microsoft Excel.) My World GIS™ is a geographic information system (GIS) that enables analysis of a range of data formats. Activities such as the one presented here allow teachers to tie-in relevant science with current events taking place in the world today. This activity illustrates a few of the ways data can be imported into Microsoft Excel and My World GIS for analysis purposes. Similar analyses can be performed with other datasets, many of which are available through the Internet.

Have you heard of "no child left inside?" Essentially, it refers to an attempt to combat the tendency of students (of all ages) to spend much more time indoors (e.g., watching TV, playing video games, etc.) than outdoors in natural settings. One goal of this activity is to provide knowledge about an opportunity for students to go outside to collect authentic data and interact with nature. Modeling a place-based education program, this activity represents the union of Maine's Project Learning Tree: Forest Inventory Growth initiative with the technological emphasis of the Earth Exploration Toolbook, and shows a way to integrate outdoor and indoor activities.

Background Information

One way to become intimately familiar with your local forest is to participate in Project Learning Tree's (PLT) Forest Inventory Growth initiative. Originating from a Project Learning Tree high school curriculum guide, the Forest Inventory Growth (FIG) project has evolved into an online database where students, with assistance from a natural resource professional, establish permanent forest plots, collect data, enter findings into an interactive database, and compare findings with other students whose teachers have been trained at a Project Learning Tree® workshop. This Earth Exploration Toolbook chapter has application to PLT goals in particular, by providing students with the awareness, appreciation, understanding, skills, and commitment to address environmental issues.

A forest is an ecosystem comprised of various types of organisms, including plants, fungi, and microorganisms, as well as the flow of energy and chemical cycles among groups of organisms and the surrounding non-living environment, such as air, soil, and water. Trees are a critical component of forest ecosystems. Trees influence soil type, water runoff and drainage, provide food and habitat to a multitude of animals, and they may also impose distinct microclimates. Individual tree species (e.g., Maple, Oak, Balsam fir, etc.) may visually or numerically dominate certain forests and be rare or absent in others. The presence or absence of certain trees may serve as a direct indicator of overall forest health. Trees are only one aspect of the larger forest community, but trees may exhibit great diversity within a single forest. Tree species diversity, or tree biodiversity, varies with different environmental factors, which can then impact the overall "health" of the ecosystem, including the spread of invasive species, fuel-loading and fire spread rate, changes in soil nutrients, and can either improve or worsen the effects of ozone exposure to the trees, acid rain, and climate change.

What is biodiversity? The word is derived from a shortened version of "biological diversity" (Duffy, 2007). Biodiversity refers to the assortment of different living organisms found in an area. As species continue to reproduce, biodiversity can be seen as a renewable resource that provides food, clothing, shelter, raw materials, and food to humans, and of course to other organisms within the ecosystem. The predominant global factor affecting biodiversity is the latitude or where the ecosystem exists on Earth, because temperature, sunlight, precipitation, and other climate factors vary with the latitude or horizontal bands, along Earth's surface. Local factors within the area, such as topography, soil quality, and interactions among organisms can also affect biodiversity.

Instructional Strategies

An example of how to implement this instructional activity is to begin by taking students on a nature walk through a local forest to collect observations. Back in the classroom, the teacher could lead a discussion about the observations and the role forests play in nature and society. The activity, or one following the same procedure but incorporating local data, could then be used to help students learn about tree species, diversity, and the relationships between environmental factors and biodiversity. 

The activity employs the BSCS Learning Cycle (5E) instructional model through a guided-inquiry approach. Collaborative teams could be utilized, particularly related to Part 3 of the activity; each group of students could investigate 4-5 of the 20 data plots.

Learning Contexts

This EET chapter is designed to provide users with an introduction to biodiversity and the environmental factors that may influence or inhibit tree species growth and distribution. It can be utilized in a variety of contexts including biology, Earth systems and environmental science, ecology, geography, and applied mathematics.

Science Standards

The following National Science Education Standards are supported by this chapter:

Grades 9-12

  • Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
  • 12ASI1.4 Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
  • Scientists rely on technology to enhance the gathering and manipulation of data.
  • 12ASI2.4 Mathematics is essential in scientific inquiry. Mathematical tools and models guide and improve the posing of questions, gathering data, constructing explanations and communicating results
  • 12ASI2.5 Scientific explanation must adhere to criteria such as: a proposed explanation must be logically consistent; it must abide by the rules of evidence; it must be open to questions and possible modification; and it must be based on historical and current scientific knowledge.
  • Natural ecosystems provide an array of basic processes that affect humans.

Geography Standards

The following U.S. National Geography Standards are supported by this chapter:

  • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.
  • How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface.
  • The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface
  • How human actions modify the physical environment.
  • The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth's surface.

Mathematics Standards

The following National Mathematics Standards are supported by this chapter:

  • Specify locations and describe spatial relationships using coordinate geometry and other representational systems.
  • Use visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling to solve problems.
  • Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them.
  • Select and use appropriate statistical methods to analyze data.

Time Required

Case Study: 10 minutes 
Part 1: 40 minutes 
Part 2: 45 minutes 
Part 3: 30 minutes 
Part 4: 30 minutes 
Part 5: 30 minutes 
Part 6: 30 minutes 

Teaching Resources

The My World GIS project files are provided here and directly within the chapter at the end of each part.

Part 2: Maine_Forest.m3vz ( 17.6MB Jun10 10)
Part 3: Maine_Forest_Part_3.m3vz ( 17.6MB Jun30 10)
Part 4: Maine_Forest_Part_4.m3vz ( 17.6MB Jun30 10)
Part 5: Maine_Forest_Part_5.m3vz ( 17.6MB Jun30 10)
Part 5: Maine_Forest_complete.m3vz ( 19.3MB Jun30 10)

Other Resources

Information about Biodiversity:

Biodiversity Wilson, E.O. (Ed.). (1988). Biodiversity. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press. 
Teacher's Resource Guide - Biodiversity, EPA, Mid-Atlantic Environmental Education. Note: this link is temporarily offline. 
Exploring Biodiversity-Lesson Plans, Harvard University, Outreach Program.

Information about Forests and Tree Species:

Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) National Program Managed by the USDA Forest Service, this program serves as the nation's forest census. 
Forest Resources of the United States, 2007 Available at General Technical Report - Washington Office - 78 (GTR-WO-78).

Trees of Maine and North America:

Forest Trees of Maine - Centennial Edition-1908 to 2008 A guide to trees of Maine available in pdf format. 
Tree Encylopedia Thousands of high resolution images of trees to aid in tree identification. The site also includes botanical and landscape information.

Information about Project Learning Tree and the Forest Inventory Growth Initiatives:

Project Learning Tree An environmental education program that offers workshops and K-12 activities related to forests and the environment. 
Maine Project Learning Tree A state chapter of the national Project Learning Tree program. 
Maine Forest Inventory Growth (FIG) Resources Procedures to set up FIG projects and data from schools in Maine. Requires username (= plt) and password (= fig)